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Billboards near Black cemetery to come down

Billboards towering over an African American cemetery in suburban St. Louis will be removed in the coming months after a settlement was reached in a lawsuit alleging that the signs desecrate the memory of the people buried there.

The judge in the case was advised of the settlement last week, attorney Mary Coffey said. She represents Wanda Brandon, a volunteer whose lawsuit sought the removal of six lighted billboards that stand above Washington Park Cemetery in Berkeley.

Coffey said DDI Media, the St. Louis-based company that owns the signs, has 180 days from June 11, which was when the settlement was reached, for the signs to come down.

The signs are not technically on cemetery land because DDI bought the parcel along Interstate 70 in the 1980s from the cemetery’s previous owner. The site is at one of the busiest sections of roadway in Missouri, just across from St. Louis Lambert International Airport. But the lawsuit described their presence as “disrespectful.”

“We just felt like you can’t have businesses in a cemetery, just like you can’t open a McDonald’s in a cemetery,” Coffey said Wednesday. “Wanda likes to say, ‘Black lives matter even after death.’”

Gabriel Gore, an attorney for DDI Media, didn’t immediately return a phone message from The Associated Press seeking comment.

The cemetery, which opened in 1920, is largely run-down and hasn’t accepted new burials for nearly three decades. Development of I-70 in the late 1950s went through the cemetery. An airport expansion project and development of a light rail system in the 1990s bought out additional parcels, leading to the digging up of thousands of remains, which were moved to nearly two dozen other cemeteries.

Brandon, whose mother and grandmother are buried in the cemetery, said she was thrilled about the settlement.

“It is like I am in a dream and I am waiting for someone to pinch me and say, ‘It is just a dream,’” she said.

The lawsuit did not seek financial damages.

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